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Full text of "The History Of Western Education"

176        HISTORY OF WESTERN EDUCATION

children, and indeed rather impatient with those who came to
him for elementary instruction in a subject like Greek, he entered
into the problems of method in much detail and with great
practical wisdom. His discussion of the place of grammar in
the teaching of literature—to take only a single point—is masterly :
" I must make my conviction clear," he says in his admirable
treatise On the Right Method of Instruction, " that whilst a know-
ledge of the rules of accidence and syntax is most necessary to
every student, still they should be as few, as simple, and as care-
fully framed as possible. I have no patience with the stupidity
of the average teacher of grammar who wastes precious years in
hammering rules into children's heads. For it is not by learning
rules that we acquire the power of speaking a language, but by
daily intercourse with those accustomed to express themselves
with exactness and refinement, and by the copious reading of the
best authors. Upon this latter point we do well to choose such
works as are not only sound models of style, but are instructive
by reason of their subject-matter."* In accordance with these
principles, he insists that grammar should always be kept strictly
subordinate to content. Formal grammar is necessary, but it
should be preceded by an informal acquaintance with the
language through conversation about common objects. And even
at a later stage, after the foundations of a thorough knowledge
of the languages have been laid by constant exercises in composi-
tion on all kinds of subjects, the classical literatures should be
brought into relation to ordinary affairs by combining them with
the study of mythology, agriculture, military science, geography,
history, astronomy, natural history and similar arts and sciences.
The study of language is as barren as the scholastic rhetoric
unless it develops the intelligence of the learner and increases his
knowledge of the facts of life,

It must not be thought, however, that Erasmus was only
concerned with questions of method. The details of educational
work were undoubtedly much in his thoughts, but he was saved
from the narrowness of vision which comes from overmuch
absorption in practical matters by his ability to see these details
in relation to the main purposes of education. He never forgot
the wider issues of life involved in the practice of instruction, or
lost sight of the end in the consideration of the means. This
* Woodward, Ehwmttf concerning Education, pp. 163-4.